LA Taco - March 2022

LA Taco - March 2022

EAGLE ROCK’S QUEER, FEMALE-OWNED NATURAL WINE SHOP STOCKS INDIGENOUS AND BLACK-OWNED BRANDS TO OFFSET GENTRIFICATION IMPACT

LA Taco talks about Vinovore

Welcome back to L.A. TACO’s column, “Dr. Beer Butch,” where Professor Hidalgo examines L.A.’s thriving booze scene using her background in academia, LGBTQ, and [real] eastside L.A. culture.

“What kind of Vinovore are you?”

The huge picture board with illustrations of animals holding wine glasses in their teeth looks like a wine lover’s version of a Lunar New Year calendar. There’s the Green Snake, “curious and breezy” who might like a bright, herbaceous wine. Or the Orange Tiger, a flamboyant and alluring type who prefers an “obscure chillable red.” 

Vinovore specializes in natural wine, beer, sake, and food items produced by women or women-owned companies in the U. S. and internationally.

Owners Coly Den Haan and Angelica Luna wanted a clever way to help shoppers find the wines they were looking for, so they came up with the animal chart—with “vinovore” playing on words like “carnivore” and “herbivore.”

“Wine should be fun,” says Den Haan. “And some natural wines are more approachable than conventional wines.” 

The sommelier, winemaker, and restauranteur behind The Must (2008-2016) and Perch comes from a long line of Los Angeles food and drink specialists, starting with her Italian-immigrant great aunt who ran a Prohibition-era downtown speakeasy.  Now, Den Haan and her partner Luna run Vinovore, and their new second location in Eagle Rock has buzzed with the business since it opened in December. More than a themed retail wine shop, Vinovore is a living archive of women-made wines from California to Macedonia, and its expansion to Eagle Rock signals a growing presence of women leading the natural wine movement, despite being only ten percent of all winemakers in the world. 

MORE ROOM FOR WOMEN MADE GOODS

Vinovore’s first store opened in Silver Lake in 2016. The hot pink building stands out on Hoover Street, where electric blue lettering promises books, wine, and goods from “Lady Winemakers.” Here is where Den Haan debuted the plague-inspired “wine window”—L. A.’s first—which made contactless sales possible to keep the store afloat during the dire lockdown days of the pandemic.

Vinovore’s new Eagle Rock location is at least twice the size of the original Silver Lake store, with more room for its mesmerizing selection of bottles from new and familiar wine regions. Concerned community members might see Vinovore as another example of gentrification hitting areas like Virgil Village and Eagle Rock, where new concept-driven wine stores are seen as displacing old-school neighborhood liquor stores and other long-time businesses. Den Haan acknowledges this as a “hot button” issue around both store locations. She emphasizes their commitment to the neighborhood as a different kind of store that highlights products made by women and sustainable small businesses, in contrast to the familiar multinational corporate brands we’re used to seeing elsewhere.

Fully stocked cold cases at Vinovore

“Our full priority, since opening our doors in Silver Lake, has always been to root ourselves as much as possible in the community and tried to listen to what people were wanting,” Den Haan wrote to L.A. TACO  in a follow-up email. “We are here because we love our neighbors, and seek to improve quality of life, not diminish. We really feel like we are breaking through the mold of the ‘liquor store’ or ‘craft wine shop’ because ultimately, we want to feel like a classic bodega, a place where you can as easily grab a coffee and sandwich, as anything else.” 

At Vinovore Eagle Rock, the ‘bodega’ vibe is alive and well. A vibrant mural, commissioned by Den Haan, depicts three female Indigenous figures and decorates the side of the building, while the familiar “Vinovore” animal sign indoors welcomes shoppers.  

Tables around the store display food items like chocolates and chips alongside books, gifts, and greeting cards. A refrigerator case holds cheeses and cured meats from women-owned enterprises like Cowgirl Creamery. On weekends, Otoño delivers delicious boquerones and jamón sandwiches made by head chef Teresa Montaño, perfect for lunch at the park.

“We buy from women makers or companies owned or co-owned by women,” said Den Haan. “As much as possible, the wines and other products we carry should be locally owned, certified green companies or in the process of getting certified.” Den Haan has assembled an impressive selection of “old world wines” from classic European regions like Italy and France, as well as wines from “newer” regions like Oregon and California. One is Oakland’s Ashanta Wines, co-founded in 2020 by third-generation winemaker Chenoa Ashton-Lewis, who made her first batch of natural wine from the organic grapes her grandparents planted there in the 1970s.

Hundreds of wines in all shades and colors tell similar stories about the women who make them in Greece, Alsace, Argentina, New Zealand, and Mexico. Their bottles line shelves and fill refrigerator cases, their white tags fluttering around like butterflies. A closer look shows Den Haan’s carefully handwritten details on each tag describing the wine, region, and woman winemaker behind the bottle.

One bottle caught my eye with the words “Chumash Coastal Band Women Winemakers” written on the tag. A palm-sized bag of colorful seeds and earthy grains accompanied the wine. My ancestral lands were calling to me, so I asked Den Haan about this bottle with a blue cap. I learned that “Re:Generate” was a limited batch of sparkling natural wine from Camins2Dreams, a small brand run by winemaker wives Tara Gomez and Mireia Taribó. Gomez, a member of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, rose to fame as the head winemaker at Kitá Winery in Lompoc, the first Native American tribal winery in the U.S. that just announced it will close this Spring.

Vinovore's corner location on York Blvd.

Den Haan and Courtney Walsh of Amy Atwood Winery also collaborated on this special vintage. Only 48 bottles were produced, and proceeds benefit the Navajo Ethno-Agricultural Foundation. Vinovore also carries beer and sake by women, “not a giant selection, but still meaningful” for its representation. Fukucho “Forgotten Fortune,” for example, draws its name from an ancient ‘forgotten’ rice grain that the female toji (brewer), Miho Amada, revived to make the sake. 

The beer selection includes familiar woman-brewer craft brands like Lost Coast, North Coast, Almanac, and Inglewood’s own Three Weavers and Crown & Hops. And…Modelo? Not a small brand by any means, but made by a mujer? “Well,” begins Den Haan, and I can’t wait for the explanation. “When we came to Eagle Rock, I spent a lot of time finding ways to stay true to the Vinovore brand, which is strongly focused on female makers, and still provides popular community offerings. One way I was able to do this with was some of my beer selections.”

Natural winemakers generally avoid adding sulfites or other preservatives to what’s already naturally occurring. They use native yeasts and natural fermentation processes, and they’re vegan—meaning no animal products like eggs or fish bladders are used to filter the wines for clarity.

She then explains that Modelo and Corona are A-B/InBev brands, and two years ago, Anheuser-Busch hired Natalie Johnson as their first Black female brewmaster and brewing director. “This was an old liquor store before, and they had a lot of Bud and Modelo, so we kept it. Technically, we can say it’s made by an African American woman.” 

NATURAL WINES ARE THE DRAW

Vinovore’s spacious new digs reflect the growing local demand for mindfully produced, expertly procured, and minimally processed beverages and other goods—Corona notwithstanding. For this reason, nearly 100% of the wine on Vinovore’s shelves is natural wine.

“The best way to explain what a natural wine is that it’s made with as little intervention as possible,” said Den Haan. The process usually starts with organic or biodynamic farming of grapes, hand-harvesting and crushing them, and letting nature take care of the rest. She explains that natural wines aren’t new and in fact, often reflect older, more ancient ways of making before industrialization came along in the 1960s. Natural winemakers generally avoid adding sulfites or other preservatives to what’s already naturally occurring. They use native yeasts and natural fermentation processes, and they’re vegan—meaning no animal products like eggs or fish bladders are used to filter the wines for clarity.

These details matter when we learn that conventional winemakers can put in preservatives, artificial colors, fruit concentrates, sugars, and other additives to stabilize and clarify wines. “Lots of things can go into conventional wine,” said Den Haan. “There are over seventy additives that wine producers can put in a wine, but you’ll never see them on the label.”

By contrast, natural wines are “alive,” often changing taste or color slightly as they settle in the bottle. They tend to defy clean “red” and “white” designations and instead, reflect pink, purple, gold, green, even bronze like the “Vinovore” chart shows.

Some drinkers used to conventional wines might turn their nose up to a funky natural wine with floating bits of sugars and yeasts in the bottle. They might say it tastes too much like kombucha or a sour beer, like I once did.

The sign outside Vinovore in Silver Lake

But natural wines are expansive and flavor profiles run the gamut. They can be bubbly and light, effervescent and elusive, heavy and chewy, juicy and thirst-quenching, and yes, funky and unfiltered like a garage experiment gone awry.  Some of my favorites are the “orange” wines, where skin contact with the grapes gives these adventurous wines their unique color, one of the oldest ways of making wine going back to Greece.

Natural wines are also pretty affordable, with many bottles starting in the $14-16 range. They can get pricey, upwards of $60, and Den Haan does carry “the good stuff” when she can get it. But looking around both Vinovore locations, it’s clear that the store caters to neighborhood crowds and loyal followers who want affordable bottles of natural wine that are accessible, food-friendly, and very drinkable. I was struck by the sheer number of natural wines available and that all of them, at least in this store, are made by women. I asked Den Haan her thoughts about this seemingly unusual phenomenon.  

“This is of course my observation and a generalization with exceptions,” Den Haan wrote to L.A. TACO in a follow-up email. “But I find that women really gravitate towards natural wine because the overall fundamental principles of natural wine [are about] minimal intervention. This means to manipulate the growing of grapes and winemaking process as little as possible. Women tend to approach winemaking in this way, with less ego, more restraint, and to let the grape and terroir shine.” 

“THE FUTURE IS FEMALE WINEMAKERS”

The success of a store that sells only wines, sakes, beers, and other goods made by women means that Den Haan and Luna are on to something. As queer, female, and BIPOC business owners, they are confident that “the future is female winemakers,” and that ethos guides every aspect of the store from branding and inventory to “VANessa,” the store’s customized delivery van.

Den Haan leads Vinvovore’s popular “Winesplaining” classes on Zoom, one-hour natural wine education classes where attendees taste wines made by the week’s guest winemaker.

They also just launched the Vinovore wine label to highlight Den Haan’s collaborations with other women making natural wines domestically and abroad, mostly in Italy where she earned her sommelier certification, and where the number of women making wine is nearly double compared to the rest of the world. 

From The Must, her “first baby,” to the new store and launch of her Vinovore label, all of Den Haan’s business ventures have reflected her values around food, wine, and community. “All my businesses have been an extension of me, what I believe in, who I want to support and champion, and where I would always want to be,” Den Haan told L. A. Taco. “If I’m not supporting other women in business and my cis/queer/trans/WOC community, I wouldn’t be fulfilled.”

Click here to read the complete original post.